Dormition of the Theotokos

AUGUST 15 was the Feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother. This feast is significant to most Catholics, and we know much about it that Mary assumed into heaven body and soul. But prior to this event, what transpired?

After the Pentecost, Mary lived in Ephesus with the Apostle John. Three days before her death, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and revealed to her the date of her departure into eternal life. Immediately, Mary, named the Theotokos, returned home to Jerusalem.

On the day of her repose, even though the apostles were scattered throughout the world, they were miraculously transported to be at her side.

Whether Mary fell ill and supposedly died in the presence of all the apostles except St. Thomas or some claim that she merely went to sleep which is called the Dormition of Mary.

The apostles conferred among themselves of Mary’s burial and decided that two maidens who has assisted Mary during her life were chosen to anoint her body with precious ointments and spices and to wrap her in sacred burial clothes before putting her in a casket.

The two maidens entered the room but before they could perform the most blessed task, there was an effulgence about her that blinded them that they could not see or touch her body.

Dazzled and stunned, the maidens ran and told the apostles. The apostles concluded that this was a divine occurrence. Entering the room, Sts. Peters and John did see the effulgence and could hear the singing: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. There was a response too in the celestial music: “A Virgin before childbirth, in childbirth and after childbirth”.

Hearing and seeing all these, the apostles fell on their knees and they heard a voice saying: “Let not her sacred body be either uncovered or touched.” Knowing that this was God’s mandate, with their own hands, they took Mary by the ends of the tunic and placed her on the bier. They felt no weight except that of the tunic. Once again, the effulgence was overwhelming especially from her face and her hands.

The apostles once again grouped together to discuss her burial. The faithful in Jerusalem hearing about Mary’s demise came, brought enough candles to be lighted at her bier. The candles burned through the day and two following days thereafter without being consumed or wasted.

The apostles took the funeral bier with Mary’s body upon their shoulders from the Cenacle in the city to the Valley of Josephat. Aside from the apostles and the disciples, many people from Jerusalem joined the procession.

With the start of the funeral march, there suddenly appeared over Mary and everyone accompanying her a cloud, like a crown. There was heard the singing of the Heavenly Powers, glorifying the Mother of God. The circle of celestial singers and radiance accompanied the procession to the very place of burial. This celestial music played on and was heard for three days. Patriarchs and Prophets among them Mary’s parents Joachim and Ann, St Elizabeth and John the Baptist and many other saints were sent by the Lord for the burial of His mother.

Reaching the holy sepulcher in the Valley of Josephat, Sts. Peter and John laid the bier in the sepulcher covering it with linen cloth. The mostpure body of the Mother of God was buried in the family tomb.

That evening, the Apostles tearfully gathered at a house. Mary appeared to them and said: “Rejoice! I am with you all the days of your lives.” This so gladdened the Apostles and everyone with them, that they took a portion of the bread, set aside at the meal in memory of the Savior, and exclaimed: “Most Holy Theotokos, save us”.

The Apostle Thomas was not present at the burial of the Mother of God. Arriving late, with profuse tears, he asked that he might be permitted to look once more upon the Mother of God and bid her farewell. The Apostles feeling pity for him decided to open the grave. They found only the wrappings and no body. They were convinced of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Heaven.

In November 1, 1950, the Catholic Church through Pope Pius XII teaches a dogma, Munificentissimus Deus, that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

The Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church believe in the Dormition of the Theotokos. Mary had a physical death or just slept has not been dogmatically defined.

The Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is celebrated with special solemnity at Gethsemane, Mary’s burial place. Therite begins customarily on the morning of August 14. A multitude of people with hierarchs and clergy at the head set off from the Jerusalem near the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in procession. Along the narrow alley-ways of the Holy City, the funeral procession makes its way to Gethsemane. Toward the front of the procession, the icon of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos is carried. Along the way, pilgrims meet the icon, kissing the image of the All-Pure Virgin Mary and lift children of various ages to the icon. After the clergy, in two rows walk the black-robed monks and nuns of the Holy City: Greeks, Romanians, Arabs, Russians etc. The procession, going along for about two hours, concludes with Lamentations at the Gethsemane church called the Abbey of the Dormition on Mt. Zion just outside the walls of the Old City near the Zion Gate. In front the altar, beyond the burial chamber of the Mother of God, is a raised-up spot, upon which rests the burial shroud of the Most Holy Mother of God among fragrant flowers and myrtle, with precious coverings.

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